Enrique Dans Senior Contributor
Teaching and consulting in the innovation field since 1990
I highly recommend reading the McKinsey Global Institute’s new report, “Reskilling China: Transforming The World’s Largest Workforce Into Lifelong Learners”, which focuses on the country’s biggest employment challenge, re-training its workforce and the adoption of practices such as lifelong learning to address the growing digital transformation of its productive fabric.
How to transform the country that has become the factory of the world, where manual assembly was the cheapest due to its low labor costs, into an artificial intelligence giant, with the largest public blockchain infrastructure in the world, a digital currency in an advanced stage of development that will see an end to cash payments, along with the world’s largest 5G network?
Xi Jinping’s state capitalism is transforming the Asian giant: the possibility of drawing up and maintaining long-term strategies thanks to political stability is driving change at an unprecedented rate, that includes autonomous drivingand digital healthcare, advanced retail or even livestock farming. No matter where you look: the modernization and robotization of Chinese assembly factories has led to enormous reductions in the size of their workforces, which, moreover, immediately correspond not only to an increase in their production capacity, but also to a drastic reduction in the number of errors. And the COVID-19 pandemic, far from slowing the process, has accelerated it even further.
China is not willing to repeat the mistakes it has seen in the West: it is regulating its technological giants, several of which it has recently fined for abusing their monopolies, in order to ensure diversity in its business ecosystem and the strength of its startups. Moreover, in contrast to its image as a major polluter, the country aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, launching another transformation, that of sustainability, which, coupled with its mastery of technologies such as solar panels or batteries, will also generate strong economic activity and specialized jobs.
There is no doubt that China is increasingly shaping the future of technology. But how can its workforce be trained to adapt to such drastic changes and increase living standards? How to move from a society with a huge breach between urban and countryside, where people still have little training and are accustomed to manual assembly work, to one with the talent and skills needed in a digitalized, innovative and post-industrial economy? Given the size of the Asian giant, we are talking about a transformation that means one third of the world’s occupational re-training is taking place in China.
China intends to drastically transform its educational system through digitalization, collaboration, vocational training, a change in mentality and by providing incentives for learning. Technologically, the country is working on the development of artificial intelligence tools that can diagnose and individualize its educational needs, using AR and VR in hybrid online/offline models, as well as using gamification platforms. Videos and open classes are available for anyone with a smartphone based on dynamic micro-curriculum design in which traditional textbooks are eliminated. In 2019, 56% of the world’s investment in education technologies took place in China. An amazing 85% of Chinese companies are active players in their field of artificial intelligence applications, compared to 51% of companies in the United States, the next country in the world ranking: we can only expect the ubiquitous presence of AI will naturally extend to education.
The country also aims to strengthen collaboration between educational institutions and companies so as to reduce the gap between the training provided and the needs of industry, giving business an environment conducive to collaborative program design. All this, together with a system of micro-qualifications that, beyond a degree, encourages the continuous updating of knowledge and the development of a culture of continuous training throughout people’s professional life.
An adequate educational system is an absolutely fundamental basis for any social change. Governments that want to drive change, improve people’s quality of life, reduce inequality and adapt to a rapid digitalization and robotization, start with a radical redesign of education. Thirty years of educational reform have led the country to become a leader in manufacturing: the next stage of reform, in the context of a drastically transformed and redefined economy, aims to take it to world leadership.